One of the most difficult aspects of a career in law enforcement is trying to remain in peak physical condition while also enduring long, exhausting work hours. Shift work itself is often difficult to adjust to. You never know when you might have to work an overnight shift, stay late because your relief isn’t there, or work a double because you caught a significant case at the end of your shift. Combine this with lack of sleep, poor diet, and trying to balance your family or personal life, and it’s easy to see why some officers start getting out of shape over the years.
The thing to remember is that staying in good physical shape is a “must-have,” not a “nice to have.” In our intermediate force training room at work, there’s a very effective poster on the wall. It displays a group of what looks to be eight to ten gang members in the prison yard looking like WWE wrestlers ready for a match. It says, ” Have you worked out today? Because they have.” it’s like former NBA basketball player Ed Macaulay said, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing…”
That being said, here are some of the best ways for law enforcement officers to stay in shape:
Maintain a good stretching routine.
You’re entering a job where there’s going to be some down time. That’s just the way it is. You can be sitting or driving in a vehicle for hours before finally having to spring to your feet and chase after somebody. At the risk of sounding like your high school PE teacher, I can’t overemphasize the importance of stretching.
One of the best ways to ensure that you keep up on your stretching routine each day is to have a set time of day that you get it done. This can be first thing in the morning or last thing before bed. Personally, I like to do about ten minutes at each of those times. You’ll be doing yourself a favor. Nobody wants to be the desk officer for two months while they heal from an injury.
Take care of your back and hip flexors.
I wish somebody had given me this advice when I was first hired. Instead, all I got was “Don’t worry about the hip pain from your duty belt. Your hips will adjust.” I don’t know whether they’ve adjusted, but they’ve definitely changed. I’m dealing with some back and hip pain already and I’ve only been in since 2008.
Whether you’re sitting in a patrol vehicle or at a desk, another thing to watch out for is the effects of remaining seated for long periods of time. This can lead to back pain, a constricted psoas muscle, tight hip flexors, and future heart disease. Be sure to engage your core, maintain good posture, and stand up to walk around from time to time. You’ll also find health benefits in using a foam roller, trying yoga, seeing a chiropractor, and getting massages.
Get a membership that you’ll stick with.
You really have to be honest with yourself when it comes to gym memberships. The common thought is that you’ll be far more likely to actually use it if you’re paying for it. But how many of us have paid for a gym membership to start the new year only to start slacking off in a matter of weeks?
If your station has a gym that is available to you for free, I would get into the habit of using it immediately before or after your shift. If you do decide that a gym membership is for you, try to make sure it’s within a reasonable distance from your home or work. Also, try to make sure there are enough options available to keep your interest. There are other options out there besides your traditional gym. For instance, you could join a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, a Krav Maga gym, or a CrossFit gym.
Focus on strength training.
Everyone has various goals and reasons for working out. One of the most common is simply for looks, or getting a “beach body.” In law enforcement, the most important reason for weight training is to gain strength and give you an edge over your potential competitors in the field.
When you’re doing bench press or leg press, think about how that translates to trying to get a suspect off of you if you ended up on your back on the ground. If you’re doing deadlifts, think about how that would help you move an injured fellow officer from an active shooter scenario. Try to think of the likely situations you could find yourself in as an LEO and focus intensely on exercises that translate to those needs.
Don’t neglect cardio.
While strength training is very important, be sure not to neglect cardio! You can be certain that when you’re chasing a subject with a long rap sheet who does not want to be caught, his adrenaline is going to be pumping a lot more than yours. You’re going to need that advantage of having trained your heart and lungs harder than your suspect has.
All that aside, think about the health risks associated with neglecting cardio work. You’re not just trying to make it to retirement. You want to be around long after to enjoy life with your loved ones.
Quick ten to fifteen minute workouts.
You’re going to endure some long shifts. On top of that you may even have a long commute. Sometimes it just feels like there’s not enough time in the day. But think about how you use the rest of your time.
If you can just take about ten to fifteen minutes a day and get yourself motivated enough to knock out a quick, intense workout, that’s a huge improvement over remaining sedentary on the couch. Most people spend more than that amount of time watching television! There are some great workouts available online for free that you can fit into a ten to fifteen minute block.
Most likely, when you come out of the academy, you’ll be in the best physical condition of your life. For some, it’s no problem to stay that way and keep improving. For most, it’s a constant struggle to maintain. Hopefully, these suggestions will help to keep you healthy and safe both on and off the job.
What do you do to stay in shape? Let us know in the comments!